First National Organization Launched to Address Fines and Fees in the Justice System

New York, NY—Two veteran justice reform advocates today announced the creation of the first national organization to advance comprehensive reform of fines and fees in the justice system. Lisa Foster, a retired judge and the former Director of the Office for Access to Justice at the United States Department of Justice, and Joanna Weiss, the former Director of Criminal Justice at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, have established the Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) to catalyze a national movement to eliminate the fines and fees that distort justice, entrench poverty, and exacerbate racial disparities.

“Fines and fees hurt more Americans than virtually any other systemic problem in the justice system today,” explains FFJC Co-Director Joanna Weiss. “People convicted of felonies, misdemeanors, and even minor traffic and municipal code violations are charged a fine as punishment, and then taxed with fees that are used to fund the justice system and other government services. Millions of people who cannot afford to immediately pay the full amount charged face additional fines and fees, diminished access to housing and employment, drivers’ license suspensions, loss of voting rights, and, far too frequently, arrest and jail.”

“The justice system today traps millions of Americans in a cycle of perpetual poverty and punishment. FFJC aims to abolish fees in the justice system and to make fines proportional to the offense and the individual. Our mission is to create a justice system that treats individually fairly, ensures public safety and community prosperity, and is funded equitably,” said FFJC Co-Director Lisa Foster.

To accomplish these goals, FFJC is engaging in state-based advocacy, piloting replicable reform strategies to bring about comprehensive change. Starting in New York and Florida, FFJC is working with community partners and justice system stakeholders to pursue court, legislative, and policy changes. In addition, FFJC advises other jurisdictions, individuals, and organizations interested in pursuing reform, directing them to resources, partners and practices that can strengthen their work. For the media, FFJC’s subject matter experts can provide commentary, guidance, and story suggestions for reporters and columnists interested in covering fines and fees reform.

FFJC is also creating a user-friendly national Clearinghouse that will collect and digest research, pilot projects, litigation, legislation, court rule changes, and media related to fines and fees in the United States. The Clearinghouse will translate this information into actionable guidance and tools that can be used by policymakers, advocates, courts, community organizations, and the media.

The problem of fines and fees in the justice system first penetrated public consciousness after the Department of Justice released the report of its investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown.

“The problems identified permeate the justice system, not just in Ferguson or Missouri, but all over the country. From New York to California, from Hawaii to Florida, virtually every state has turned its courts into revenue centers, imposing a regressive tax on justice,” said Foster.

Although efforts to address egregious enforcement practices, such as the proliferation of debtor’s prisons for people unable to afford fines and fees imposed by courts, have been undertaken in several jurisdictions, including successful litigation, there has been no comprehensive advocacy strategy nor national center dedicated solely to fines and fees.

“FFJC will collaborate with reform advocates around the country, spearheading reform and sharing best practices, until we no longer have a price tag on justice,” said Weiss.

FFJC has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. For more information, please or Additionally, you can follow FFJC on Twitter for news and commentary around fines and fees.

The Fines and Fees Justice Center is a project of the New Venture Fund and is guided by an Advisory Board composed of nationally recognized experts in their field.

Jonathan Ben-Menachem